Ben Langhinrichs

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When Help means HELP!!!

Mon 19 Dec 2005, 12:54 PM

by Ben Langhinrichs
I had an interesting insight on Sunday, and I thought it might be worth relating.  The insight came about due to a scary moment when my 83 year old mother-in-law was flying in to town and didn't show up for about forty five minutes after her flight landed.  My mother-in-law isn't quite as quick as she used to be, so my wife, who was at the airport to pick her mother up, didn't worry at first.  But after a while, my wife began to get worried, because for some reason she had not actually talked to her mom that day before the flight.  As time went on, it was hard to have unpleasant visions, which were not helped by my ten year in the backseat saying "Is Granny dead?".

I was working, so my wife called and asked me to check in with the airline to see if her mother had actually gotten on the plane.  This is where the insight started.  I checked the Continental website, and couldn't find a number where anybody could help.  I checked the Cleveland Hopkins Airport website, and couldn't find a number.  On both, I called a few different contact numbers they had, but all were only operational on weekdays.  Now, Cleveland Hopkins is a pretty big airport, and they have a lot of flights every day, so it stood to reason that there must be some way to get help.

As I was sitting starting at the Continental website one more time, I noticed that in the upper right, right after the Contact Us menu, was the Help menu.  I figured, "Hey, I need Help", so I clicked on it...

Inline JPEG imageAnd it provided just what you would expect, help on navigating the site, help on getting travel deals, help on using the menus, etc. etc. etc.

But what about when Help means HELP!!!  This is an airline after all.  People fly, they don't show up, they get lost, they lose their tickets, they might even see a possible terrorist incident developing.  They don't need Help.  They need HELP!!!

You might think this is isolated to public websites serving lots of people, but what about even a simple software website.  It may not be a missing mother-in-law, but when you server goes down and thousands of people aren't getting their e-mail, or can't access your e-commerce site, or can't get medical information that is needed out of a system, they might not think "I should call support".  They might just, as I did in this case, think "HELP!!!".  Perhaps we should give it to them.  Sure, the Help menu could still provide the purpose we are used to, but maybe it should also have a clear statement near the top saying, "If this is an emergency, call (xxx) xxx-xxxx".  It wouldn't take much space, but it might be just the HELP!!! that is needed.

And by the way, my mother-in-law is fine.  Her luggage didn't show up right away, so she was waiting for it.  I'm just glad I didn't need more real HELP!!!

Copyright 2005 Genii Software Ltd.

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